HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - More global financial woes, and even more strife, are on the cards for the Chinese lunar Year of the Ox, according to Hong Kong's respected soothsayers who say it might not end in tears after all.
Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub known for its ultra-capitalist ways, reveres its feng shui masters and fortune tellers -- men and women who draw on ancient Chinese traditions to predict the future, offer investment advice and help mere mortals make sense of their destiny.
The Year of the Ox, which starts on Monday, could prove another tough one for everybody, including U.S. President Barack Obama.
"The Year of the Ox will be a number nine fire year," said Raymond Lai, a seer in the city. "And the color is purple, so the fire energy will be very intense ... this could bring fire disasters or war, racial conflicts and things like that."
Practitioners of feng shui maintain the universe is made up of five elements -- earth, water, fire, wood and metal -- that define the collective mood in our environment.
Alion Yeo, who predicted major financial turbulence last year as well as a major disaster in the East, sees further seismic shifts in global financial markets come May and June this year.
"There will be another major crisis, the bubble will burst again in the U.S. and it will be worse than last year," said Yeo, who counts top bankers and celebrities among his clients.
Peter So, a pony-tailed guru with his own TV shows and whose books fill the Hong Kong's bookshops, also thinks 2009 will remain trapped within a negative cycle.
"We'll have to wait for the years between 2011 till 2015 for a steadier period. Every 12 years we experience a cycle for the economy and for now, the Year of the Ox is a transition year."
But So, who intersperses feng shui terms with the rapid-fire jargon of a broker, is bullish on banking, shipping, tourism and trade stocks due to their association with "water."
"No one likes banking stocks right now, but this is of course the best time to buy," he said, admitting he'd bought shares in ailing global banking giant HSBC this week.
Stocks associated with the fire and earth elements, including oil and construction, are also expected to surge later in the year, So said, but property remains a no-go, even in Asia or Europe, with the sector mired in a six-year down cycle.
The feng shui masters have also turned their skills to Obama, predicting that he is likely to face stiff challenges, despite being born in an "Ox" year. According to the Chinese zodiac, Ox year people tend to be dependable and steady.
"In 2009, Obama will experience a conflict of destiny and bad luck. He'll face a string of incidents that may trip him up, mainly administrative challenges," said So.
But others are more sanguine, saying Obama also has what's known as a streak of "gambler's luck."
"He is able to handle the economy and he has the element of intelligence to deal with that money," said Raymond Lo, whose office is crammed with the paraphernalia of his trade, including large compasses and mystic charts.
Despite it all -- there could be a silver lining to 2009.
Yeo, who has had an uncanny track record of late, thinks the Ox year could shake off its tragic yoke and unburden its woes.
"In August there could be some good news," said Yeo who often deploys a method consisting of tossing three ancient coins six times onto the ground.
"I'm pretty confident that things will start stabilizing by year-end," he told Reuters.
Editing by Miral Fahmy